In the years since their inception, The Killers has come to feel less like a band and more like a platform for spangly suit wearing frontman Brandon Flowers. Never has this been more apparent than just a few weeks ago, when the band announced that only two members of the group would be embarking on the band’s world tour. It was a move that sparked anger from much of the band’s fan base who consider The Killers to be more than just their frontman. But whether we like it or not, at this point, Flowers essentially is The Killers.
On the band’s fifth album, their first in five years, Flowers is more at the helm than ever. The grungy pop-rock that once characterised a Killers album has been largely faded out, replaced with a sparklier synth-led sound that Flowers first experimented with on his solo side projects. But it’s not just the instruments that are Flowers through and through, the subject matter is also deeply personal, focusing on themes of masculinity and Flowers’ wife’s battle with depression and PTSD.
Wonderful Wonderful is similar to Flowers’ second solo album, The Desired Effect, in two notable ways. The first is the synth sheen that pervades much of the album, giving it a neat gloss. The second is its frustrating mix of very good tracks coupled with very mediocre ones. Like The Desired Effect, Wonderful Wonderful has a handful of standout songs that are often let down by a few damp squibs.
Flowers shines on the album’s more flamboyant tracks, such as lead single ‘The Man’. A snazzy synth-pop tune, it’s a jaunty, tongue-in-cheek rumination on modern masculinity, Flowers convincingly taking on the role of macho poser. But for all its machismo, it’s a fairly camp dance track, the masculinity of the lyrics undercut by a sparkly synth sheen. Flowers is similarly at home on the dramatic title track, sounding like an ancient wizard as he prays for rain over imposing drums and a creeping bassline. Flowers is at his best at his most theatrical, and thankfully Wonderful Wonderful offers plenty of room for dramatics.
But Wonderful Wonderful falters when it’s not being gaudy and flash. For all its good intentions, ‘Rut’, a track written from the perspective of Flowers’ wife, is a pedestrian soft rock song that doesn’t hit its stride until a delayed third act when it builds to a pleasing anthemic crescendo. Flowers has said the meaning of the song was so important that he felt the need to explain it to the rest of the band, something he rarely does. But though its heart’s in the right place, it makes for an unfulfilling listen. The same is true of following track ‘Life To Come’ that also eludes to Flowers’ wife. Here, Flowers sounds pitchy and the track is the album’s most forgettable, a mid-tempo dirge that never really gets going. It’s not until ‘Out Of My Mind’, a soft, melancholic song, that Flowers finally nails the power ballad.
Though much of Wonderful Wonderful embraces 80s inspired synths, there are still snatches of retro Killers here, most notably on ‘Run For Cover‘. With its strummed guitar intro and punchy, percussive verses, it feels a little out of place on an album that favours more elegant, electronic arrangements, but it remains one of the album’s best tracks. It was originally conceived during the recording of previous album Battle Born, but was only finished recently after Flowers enlisted the help of co-writer Alex Cameron. It’s the meatiest track on the album, only rivalled by the stomping ‘Tyson vs Douglas’ in which Flowers recalls his disillusionment after boxing champion Mike Tyson’s historic defeat in 1990 to Buster Douglas. It’s an interesting take on toxic masculinity, Flowers turning inwards to consider his own image and how this will affect his children.
Wonderful Wonderful isn’t without its slip-ups, but it’s an enjoyable album that lays bare Flowers’ insecurities and passions on a record of flashy but substantial tracks. On the album’s brooding closer, Flowers ponders ‘Have All The Songs Been Written?’ The title came from an email Flowers sent to U2 frontman Bono during a bout of writer’s block, writing the phrase in the email’s subject line. It was Bono who suggested he turn it into a song title. On their fifth studio album, The Killers not only prove there are many more songs left to write, but that they’re more than qualified to write them.